Sunday 13th December 2020 – 2pm KO at The Dripping Pan in the FA Women’s Championship
It is a frustrating situation that we find ourselves in down at The Dripping Pan. After nearly nine months of football without fans, Lewes Women’s side were able to welcome them back just as the Men’s Isthmian League season was put on hold. After opening the turnstiles last weekend for the visit of Charlton Athletic, Sunday saw the visit of London rivals Crystal Palace to East Sussex for what was the last competitive game of a year none of us will forget, and not for positive reasons.
For those who have missed the headline news in recent weeks, The Dripping Pan was voted Britain’s Best Football Ground after the publishing of Mike Bayly’s book of the same name a few weeks ago. COVID-19 restrictions have tempered some of the reasons why football fans across the globe voted for Lewes’s ground of 135 years. Alas, the Rook Inn can’t serve their unique mix of local beer at the moment, whilst free movement around the ground has been stopped due to the FA’s requirements for Red and Amber zones.
But that didn’t stop over 327 fans braving the wild and wet conditions to watch the Rooks. Recent form had seen Lewes win just one out of their last seven games coming into the match but significantly better off than they were at the same stage as last season. Every season that passes sees the level of professionalism, quality and performance increase in the Women’s game, thanks to more focus, resource and finance being invested in a game that was cruelly ignored for so long.
Visitors Crystal Palace are one of seven teams in the Championship that has the backing of a professional club, to some extent or another, which still leads to some Rooks fans who have watched the team for years pinch themselves that they are competing at this level. Getting fans to come to games has been, and continues to be a challenge for the club. Making sure they come back is even trickier especially when any momentum the club has in terms of marketing was effectively wiped out by not being allowed to have fans in the ground.
But fans do come back in spite of the restrictions, the weather, the lack of a beer (other alcoholic drinks available), the festive period and the ban on any away fans or anyone who lives in Tier 3. From the moment you are welcomed by the club officials at the gate to the atmosphere the fans generate on the Philcox (covered) Terrace, the club continues to invest in the fan experience as well as the match experience.
On this occasion it was definitely the fan experience that won. Crystal Palace once again came away with a win, their third consecutive victory at the Pan thanks to two well taken goals by centre-forward Bianca Baptiste in the second half. The Christmas break will give Rooks manager Simon Parker an opportunity to reflect on a first half of a season that has been very ying and yang for the team, and on the news of a major sponsorship deal being signed with global leisure ware brand Lyle & Scott, time to look at strengthening the squad during the January transfer window.